How well did NY Jets QB Zach Wilson perform against the Denver Broncos?
For the second consecutive game, Wilson played a minimal role in an impressive road victory by the New York Jets, netting only 105 passing yards in 16-9 win over the Denver Broncos.
In last week’s game against Green Bay, we found that, while Wilson definitely wasn’t good, his struggles were slightly overblown due to a bad performance by his supporting cast. Was that the case in Denver? Or does Wilson deserve most of the blame this time around?
Before we get into Wilson’s performance, check out the explanation and glossary below if you are unfamiliar with how my QB Grades series works.
My goal with this grading system is to capture the true quality of the quarterback’s performance. Box score statistics are usually misleading, as they do not account for a variety of factors that determine whether a quarterback performed well or poorly on a given play.
After re-watching each play on the All-22 film, I grade it on a 0-to-10 scale. Once I’m finished grading each play, I take the average of all plays to form a 0-to-100 overall score with 50 being approximately league-average (based on my studying of numerous other quarterback performances across the league).
Here are just a handful of the primary factors that are taken into account in the grading of each play, and a basic description of what I’m looking for:
- Decision-making (Did the QB choose the best available option or did he leave a better play on the field? Regardless of if a ball is intercepted or not, did the QB put the ball in danger of being intercepted?)
- Throw difficulty (Clean pocket or pressured? Wide open or tight window? Stationary or on the move? More difficult throws are more valuable.)
- Accuracy/placement (Even if the pass is completed, was the ball placed in the best possible spot or did the receiver have to make an extra effort to catch it? Was the ball placed in a spot that maximized YAC? Did the QB protect his receiver from a big hit?)
- Game situation – score, time, field position, down and distance (Good decisions based on the clock/situation are crucial. Playing the sticks is also important – it is not a good play to complete a tightly covered 5-yard out on third-and-10 while a 15-yard dig is open, but a 5-yard out on third-and-4 is good.)
Ultimately, it’s all about context. Not all 40-yard completions are created equal. Not all interceptions are created equal. You need to watch a play to understand whether the quarterback did a good or bad job (and exactly how good or how bad it was). The raw result of a play cannot give you that answer.
When we analyze every play on film multiple times and grade the quarterback’s individual effort independent of his surroundings or the on-paper outcome of the play, we get a much better estimation of how well he actually played.
Of course, keep in mind that these grades are subjective. They are but one man’s opinion and are not intended to be viewed as gospel. Feel free to let me know your takes on my grades for these performances.
For each performance, I include a few metrics that help explain how Wilson arrived at his final grade.
These are some of the metrics I will break down for every Wilson outing.
Overall grade: 0-to-100 grade based on the average score of all plays analyzed. An estimation of individual performance quality.
Positive plays: Number of plays graded above 5.0: above-average efforts.
Negative plays: Number of plays graded below 5.0: below-average efforts.
Neutral plays: Number of plays graded as a 5.0: plays that are not noticeably good or bad. These are typically lost plays or plays in which the QB can hardly be evaluated: screens, batted passes, miscommunications, and unavoidable sacks are commonly graded as a 5.0.
Positive/negative ratio: Ratio of positive plays to negative plays. Defines the quarterback’s consistency level.
Average positive score: The average score of all positive plays. An indicator of how high the quarterback’s peaks were — a higher score indicates his best plays were often highlight-reel-worthy while a lower score indicates that his best plays were typically unspectacular.
Average negative score: The average score of all negative plays. An indicator of how low the quarterback’s valleys were — a higher score indicates his mistakes were typically minor while a lower score indicates that his mistakes were typically brutal.
Wow Factor: Combination of average positive score and average negative score. An indicator of the combined ability to produce outstanding moments and avoid big mistakes.
7+ plays: Number of plays graded 7.0 or better: elite moments. Big-time plays, if you will.
≤3 plays: Number of plays graded 3.0 or worse: brutal moments. The ones that make Jets fans throw things at their TV.
Zach Wilson’s Grade vs. Denver Broncos
Let’s dig into everything that went into my 0-to-100 grade for Zach Wilson‘s trip to the Mile High.
On the television broadcast, it appeared Wilson had an ugly game. Was Wilson as bad as he looked upon first watch? Or was he a victim of his surroundings?
Time to hop in.
- Nania’s Overall Grade: 24.5 – (Average: 50, Great: 60+, Elite: 70+, Poor: <40, Awful: <30)
- Plays graded: 34
- Neutral plays: 8
- Positive plays: 15 (44.1%) – (Average: 56%, Phenomenal: >65%, Poor: <45%)
- Negative plays: 11 (32.4%) – (Average: 28%, Phenomenal: <20%, Poor: >40%)
- Positive-negative ratio: 1.36 – (Average: 2.00, Phenomenal: 3.00+, Poor: <1.00)
- Average positive: 5.47 – (Average: 5.90, High: 6.00+, Low: <5.80)
- Average negative: 3.49 – (Average: 3.80, High: 4.00+, Low: <3.60)
- Wow factor: 8.96 – (Average: 9.70, High: 10.00+, Low: <9.40)
- 7+ plays: 0 (0.0%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: >12%, Poor: <4%)
- ≤3 plays: 5 (14.7%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: <4%, Poor: >12%)
- Actual stats: 16/26 for 121 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (4.7 Y/A, 72.8 QB rating). 3 sacks for 16 yards. 4 rushes for 24 yards.
I landed on an overall grade of 24.5 for Wilson. To state it bluntly, I thought he was terrible.
To be fair, the Jets’ passing game struggles were not all on Wilson. There were other problems for New York’s passing game in this one, which we will see later in the film breakdown. Specifically, the Jets’ offensive line struggled with Denver’s unique blitz packages. Wilson was faced with quick, unblocked rushers too often. Some of those wild scrambling plays you saw from Wilson were not his fault.
Regardless, Wilson still didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. When situations were less than ideal, he often made them much worse than they had to be. And when the Jets actually did protect well and get receivers open (these two things happened far more often than it may have seemed when watching on TV), Wilson often botched a favorable opportunity to make a play.
The main problems for Wilson in this game were the height of his highs and the depth of his lows. His mistakes were often egregious and he did not record any special plays to make up for it. There were no peaks to cancel out the valleys.
Over the last two weeks, Wilson has lost his knack for making those “wow” plays to spark the team. My average score of 5.47 on his positive plays against Denver is the lowest I have ever given him, coming just one week after he set a career-low against the Packers (5.49). For reference, I consider an average mark to be around 5.90.
What this tells us is that Wilson struggled to make plays that significantly exceeded expectations. When he did something positive, it was usually something that offered a fairly minimal amount of value. There were no “wow” plays whatsoever. For the second straight game, I did not give him a grade of 7.0+ (elite) on a single play. He had at least one of these plays in every one of his career games prior to last week.
Wilson’s unique traits allow him to overcome his surroundings and make plays that defy the expectations. Think of his off-schedule deep bombs against Tennessee, his scrambles against Jacksonville, and his tight-window throws against Tampa Bay.
When Wilson made his most iconic plays in those games, he was rarely in an ideal situation – usually overcoming pressure or executing a low-percentage throw. He used his raw talent to exceed the expectations presented to him. Right now, he isn’t doing that at all.
On the flip side, Wilson’s lows in Denver were very low. My average grade on his negative plays was 3.49, ranking fourth-worst in his career. This tells us that when he messed up, he tended to mess up badly.
Comparatively, I graded Wilson with an average score of 3.96 on his negative plays against Green Bay, which is actually relatively high compared to average (3.80 is what I consider average). His worst plays in that game typically weren’t that bad since the Jets failed to present him with many good opportunities. Many of his mistakes were somewhat excusable for that reason. In Denver, though, the Jets did present Wilson with chances to make plays, increasing the severity of his bad moments.
If you combine Wilson’s average positive score against Denver (5.47) with his average negative score (3.49), you get a mark of 8.96. I call this number the “wow factor” – an estimation of the quarterback’s combined ability to produce highlight plays and avoid killer mistakes.
Wilson’s 8.91 wow factor in Denver is a career-low. In other words, I’ve never seen him produce a worse ratio of playmaking-to-ugliness.
Overall, Wilson’s 24.5 grade against Denver is my second consecutive season-low for him after I gave him a 41.6 grade against Green Bay. It is the third-worst grade of his career, beating out only his home game against the Patriots (22.6) and his London game against the Falcons (23.0).
Wilson’s season-long grade for the 2022 campaign has dropped all the way down to 49.0, which is only a marginal improvement over the 47.6 grade I gave him in 2021.
Zach Wilson film vs. Denver Broncos
Let’s take a look at some of the key plays from Wilson’s performance in Denver.
For each play in the breakdown, I’ll list the grade I gave him for that play. Anything above 5.0 is positive and helps push his overall game grade above 50.0, and vice versa for anything below 5.0.
1st & 10 – Qtr: 1, (15:00) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete deep right to T.Conklin.
The play-by-play credited this target to Tyler Conklin, but it’s pretty clear Wilson is trying to hit Corey Davis and badly airmails it. Conklin runs a seam route and Davis cuts underneath him on the dig route, getting open over the middle. Wilson misses high.
Jets fans got on Mike LaFleur for passing the ball to start the game, but he schemed up an open receiver for Wilson here. This one is completely on Wilson. Grade: 3.5
2nd & 10 – Qtr: 1, (14:55) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short right. Penalty on NYJ-N.Herbig, Ineligible Downfield Pass, declined.
Wilson’s manic scrambles in the backfield were the most popular topic from this game. Many fans complained that Wilson ran around too much and needed to stop playing hero ball. Some fans defended him, crediting him for dodging sacks and trying to make things happen.
Both groups of fans were correct on some plays and wrong on others. Plays like this need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Some of these dizzying plays are understandable. Some are not. It all depends on the circumstances.
In this case, I consider this a good play by Wilson. He is immediately under pressure once he comes out of the play fake and has no option but to respond. Many quarterbacks would simply cut their losses and take the sack there, but Wilson dodges it, and he continues to extend the play to try and make something happen. Nobody gets open, so Wilson makes the right call to throw the ball away.
This is a positive play. Wilson dodged a sack and then created a second chance for his teammates to get open. Ultimately, he threw the ball away to avoid a loss of yardage.
As we will see throughout this review, not all of Wilson’s scrambles were good, but this one definitely was. Grade: 5.75
1st & 10 – Qtr: 1, (:54) Z.Wilson sacked at NYJ 19 for -10 yards (D.Jones). Denver challenged the runner was down by contact ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field stands. (Timeout #1.)
After watching a good scrambling play, here’s a bad one.
First, I think Wilson could have popped this one up to C.J. Uzomah. He knows Uzomah is blocking-and-releasing, and he’s looking right at him, where he can see that Uzomah has plenty of room. In my opinion, he has an opportunity to lob this ball over the defender and lead Uzomah into the flat. It would be tough, but he is capable of doing it. If you don’t think he can pull it off, I implore you to look at the throw he makes at the 0:28 mark in this clip.
Wilson then does a good job of dodging the first rusher and extending the play. He deserves credit for this. It’s not a well-blocked play and Wilson responds nicely, avoiding a possible sack and buying more time for his teammates to get open.
After that, though, Wilson should be able to see that he has a wide open Corey Davis in the flat to his left, but he fails to recognize it, despite the called concept being designed for him to have his eyes to the left side of the field. All four of the Jets’ receiving options are on the left, but Wilson’s eyes are glued to the middle, anticipating more defenders. Not hitting Davis here is a big missed opportunity. That’s a guaranteed first down if Wilson sees it.
If Wilson is not going to hit Davis, he needs to throw this ball in the dirt and move on. It’s first down. Live to fight another play. I wouldn’t have much of an issue with this rep if Wilson just accepted defeat with a throwaway.
Instead, Wilson enters “trying to do too much” territory. The second attempted spin does not need to happen. Disaster strikes. Wilson ends up losing the football.
Luckily, the replay showed that he went down just before the ball came loose, so he lucked out, but that is an example of putting the football in unnecessary danger. This was inches away from being a game-changing turnover, and Wilson had every opportunity to prevent the play from reaching the point where that was a possibility. Grade: 2.0
3rd & 16 – Qtr: 1, (:41) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson sacked at NYJ 14 for -5 yards (D.Jones).
This is a perfect example of a brutal play that you can’t judge properly when watching the broadcast. You can’t see the receivers on TV, so you assume Wilson had no options to avoid the sack. But the film shows that he should have had a first down, and the sack should have never happened.
Garrett Wilson is wide open on the bottom of your screen for a likely first down. Zach appears to peek in that direction but strangely does not pull the trigger. He has plenty of time to do so before the pressure arrives. This is a good pocket.
Instead, Zach holds the ball too long and gets sacked, making the offensive line look bad when it was really him at fault. Grade: 3.0
2nd & 8 – Qtr: 2, (3:16) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short middle to B.Berrios.
Despite the incompletion, I like this play from Wilson. He takes an aggressive shot to Braxton Berrios, trying to squeeze the ball between multiple zone defenders, and he actually gives Berrios a catchable ball. Berrios fails to come up with it.
It’s definitely a tough catch for Berrios, so I won’t crush him for not catching it and I won’t act like it’s a perfect throw from Wilson. Regardless, this is a catchable ball thrown into an extremely tight window. Most NFL receivers snatch that pass – Berrios just happens to be one of the league’s smaller receivers, and he’s proven to struggle with making catches outside of his frame. I think this is an impressive throw. Grade: 6.0
3rd & 8 – Qtr: 2, (3:11) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson scrambles left end ran ob at NYJ 45 for 18 yards (P.Locke).
Great third-down scramble from Wilson. The Broncos dial up an excellent blitz that puts four rushers against three blockers to Wilson’s right, so there is a free rusher that Wilson needs to account for. Wilson makes the free rusher miss and takes off. With a slick juke in the open field, Wilson picks up the first down in a situation where there wasn’t any other feasible way to move the chains. Grade: 6.0
1st & 25 – Qtr: 2, (2:00) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass short left to Mi.Carter pushed ob at DEN 33 for 37 yards (J.Simmons).
Nothing crazy here, but it’s a sound, smart play that results in a big gain. Wilson starts the play with his eyes to the right, holding the linebackers. This opens up space for Michael Carter as he leaks out of the backfield and runs to the left side. Wilson flips his head to the left and hits Carter with a good in-stride pass, leading him to a 37-yard pickup.
2nd & 6 – Qtr: 2, (1:12) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass short left to G.Wilson to DEN 23 for 6 yards (K.Williams).
This is a play that looks good on the stat sheet but is actually fairly poor. Regardless of the result (a 6-yard completion for a first down), this is not an ideal throw.
Garrett Wilson wins on this out route, but Zach places the ball way too far inside, making the catch significantly more difficult than it should be. Luckily, Garrett comes through with an excellent catch. Still, Zach forces Garrett to take an unnecessary hit and also costs him plenty of yards after the catch.
Sometimes the receiver deserves more credit than the quarterback for a successful pass. This is one of those instances. Grade: 4.0
2nd & 3 – Qtr: 3, (10:35) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short middle to C.Uzomah.
A missed layup. You just can’t have it. LaFleur dials up a perfect call to get C.J. Uzomah wide open and Wilson misses by a longshot. He doesn’t even give his 6-foot-6 tight end an inkling of a chance to make the grab.
Is this ideal protection? No. Laken Tomlinson appears to botch this. (He had a bad game.)
Regardless, that is no excuse for missing a throw with such a low difficulty level. Wilson makes the pressure look much more impactful than it needs to be. Rather than standing tall in the pocket and maintaining his fundamentals – even if that means accepting a possible hit – Wilson drifts away from the pressure and throws an ugly fadeaway, resulting in the bad miss.
There are some situations where Wilson is justified to use his mobility and run away from defenders. Think back to our second play in this review.
But there are many times where Wilson is letting the pressure move him off his spot when it is not necessary. I want to see him do a better job of standing tough in the pocket and making throws with defenders bearing down on him. This requires the QB to accept the possibility of a hit, but it allows them to maintain good fundamentals, and thus, good accuracy. When you drift away like this, you are not going to throw the ball well.
In today’s NFL, it should be even easier for quarterbacks to feel confident about standing in the pocket. With the rapidly increasing softness of roughing the passer penalties, quarterbacks should know that defenders are more likely to ease up in an effort to avoid being penalized. And if they do finish off with a big hit, the chances of a penalty are stronger than ever.
Can’t miss these throws at the professional level. Grade: 3.0
3rd & 3 – Qtr: 3, (10:31) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short middle to T.Conklin [J.Griffith].
Similar to the near-fumble play at the beginning of this review, here is another play where Wilson is justified to escape the pocket, but doesn’t make the best decision once he does.
Scrambling here is a good move. That pocket is collapsing. But why he doesn’t he try to hit Berrios on the out route? It’s third-and-3, and Berrios has some horizontal separation. If he doesn’t like that, he could even try Denzel Mims, who is running the same route 10 yards deeper and has some space.
I am not a fan of Wilson declining to attempt either of those throws. Then, he starts to get reckless. He ends up backpedaling 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and after that, he launches the ball across his body toward the middle of the field, trying to hit Conklin. It’s ultimately harmless as the ball doesn’t come close to being intercepted, but I just don’t understand what Wilson saw that prompted him to attempt the throw. Pause the clip at the moment Wilson starts winding up. Does Conklin look like he’s open there? I sure don’t think so.
Despite the antics near the end of the play, I’m mostly critical of Wilson for neglecting Berrios and Mims. Grade: 4.0
3rd & 8 – Qtr: 3, (2:55) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass short middle to T.Conklin to NYJ 22 for 6 yards (A.Singleton; D.Mathis).
On third-and-8, Wilson takes a dump-off with minimal odds of reaching the first down marker. Meanwhile, a route beyond the first down marker is open.
Check out Jeff Smith, the innermost wide receiver on the right side. He crosses over the middle and ends up flattening out his route about three yards beyond the first down marker, with about four yards of vertical separation between him and the defender who picks him up.
Sometimes when a receiver looks open, you find that he really isn’t, when you slow the video down and realize that he is only open because the defenders around him moved in reaction to the QB’s windup. That is not the case here. Smith is breaking open before Wilson begins his windup to Conklin.
The key defender for Smith is the cornerback squatting around the 24-yard line on the left side. If he sits back, he is impeding Smith’s route, meaning Smith is not open and Conklin is the only option. If he bites down on Conklin, Smith will be open.
The latter occurs. You can see the CB begin to close in on Conklin a few ticks before Wilson starts winding up. He makes his decision: Conklin is his guy. This leaves Smith open. Wilson needs to see this and get the ball to the player who has a chance to move the chains. Grade: 4.0
3rd & 1 – Qtr: 4, (8:51) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass short right to T.Conklin to DEN 43 for 8 yards (K.Jackson).
This is far from Wilson’s worst play in this game, but it might be his most frightening.
Wilson can hardly ask for a more favorable situation than this. Conklin is as wide open as a receiver can be in the NFL. He is directly in Wilson’s line of sight. The pocket is squeaky clean.
And yet, Wilson hesitates to get the ball out, pumping it mid-release and pulling it back down before he starts winding up again. It’s concerning to watch, suggesting Wilson is playing afraid.
Wilson completes the pass for a first down, but if this ball were out on-time with better placement, Conklin could have rumbled for at least 10 more yards after the catch. Instead, he is halted right at the catch point. Grade: 4.0
2nd & 17 – Qtr: 4, (7:02) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short middle to D.Mims. NYJ-D.Mims was injured during the play.
Wilson had a very rough day in the accuracy department. Here’s another missed layup. He has a clean pocket and targets a wide-open Mims on a short slant, but throws the ball high-and-behind a 6-foot-3 wideout.
This throw had a completion probability of 91.3%, per NFL NextGen Stats. It’s inexcusable to miss these. Grade: 3.0
3rd & 17 – Qtr: 4, (6:58) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete deep middle to B.Berrios. PENALTY on DEN-K.Williams, Defensive Pass Interference, 19 yards, enforced at 50 – No Play.
There’s some subjectivity involved here, but in my opinion, I think this is a really bad play and Wilson lucked out.
Wilson tries to hit Berrios, who gets interfered with, and the ball ends up hitting Justin Simmons for an easy interception (which he drops). The Jets end up with a good result thanks to the penalty.
When I watched this on the live broadcast, I figured the interference explained away the interceptable pass, but upon rewatching, I have a different take.
It’s tough to tell exactly what route Berrios is trying to run because of the penalty, but regardless of what he was attempting to do, I don’t see how this ball ends up in Berrios’s hands. If he is running a seam route, the ball is too short and too far outside. And even if the ball were placed in a spot where it led Berrios, the safety is sitting on top of it. If Berrios is trying to break out, the safety is still sitting right there with his hips turned outside, waiting to make a play on it.
Personally, I do not see the justification for this attempt, and I consider this as an interception for all intents and purposes. Maybe Berrios could have broken it up if he weren’t interfered with, but this is an incredibly dangerous pass nonetheless. Grade: 2.0
Zach Wilson needs to rebound, and fast
Through two games, I was very pleased with where Wilson was at in his development. A true second-year leap appeared to be in the making.
After the Packers game, my confidence dwindled a smidgen, but I was still impressed with the three-game body of work.
But now, things are headed in a bad direction. All of a sudden, Wilson’s body of work this season does not look like much of an improvement (if at all) over his rookie year. If that holds up through the end of his this season, it will be a daunting sign for his long-term future. Quarterbacks need to show progress in Year 2. As of now, it’s hard to say Wilson has done that. He needs to turn things around quickly to save himself from entering this territory.
The Denver game was truly concerning. Yes, it was on the road against an elite Broncos defense, and the pass protection was not ideal. That does not excuse misfiring on easy throws and failing to target wide-open receivers.
Many of the bad habits that Wilson seemed to have erased from his game were back on display in Denver. Specifically, I am concerned with Wilson’s footwork and confidence. Over the first two games, I thought Wilson was showing excellent improvement when it came to his accuracy on easy throws, his poise in the pocket, and his rhythm within the offense. But now, Wilson is back to missing layups due to sloppy footwork, looking rattled under pressure, and appearing hesitant to pull the trigger.
The Jets are not going to be able to continue helping Wilson out as much as they did in the past four games. Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker – the two primary driving forces behind the thriving run game that took pressure off Wilson – are gone. Corey Davis might not play this week. The schedule is about to get much tougher over the remainder of the season.
New York needs Wilson to step up his game now more than ever.
This week’s contest will be Wilson’s 18th career game – essentially beginning his second season in terms of his career on-field experience. He’s not a rookie anymore. Excuses are running out.
It’s time to start being a franchise quarterback.